row after row after row after row 11.10.2006, 8:04 AM
posted by bob stein
I want to tell you about one scene in a wonderful documentary, DOC, that just opened the Margaret Mead Film Festival at the Museum of Natural History in New York. Doc Humes was the founder of the Paris Review. Made by his daughter, Immy, the film follows Immy as she tries to uncover the layers of her father's complex life. At one point she finds out that he made a feature film and she tries to find the footage. She gets a tip that Jonas Mekas may have a copy at Anthology Film Archives in the east village in New York. She goes to visit Mekas and takes her camera. Mekas takes her into the vast underground storeroom and points at row after row after row after row of film cans. The point of the shot is that looking for the film on these shelves -- even if it were known to be here, which it isn't -- is a hopeless task. Nothing seems to be marked; there is no order. Rather than a salvation for the rich film culture that came out of NY in the 50s, 60s, and 70s, it seems that the Anthology Film Archive may become a graveyard.
Seeing this made me wonder about the decisions we make as a society about what to keep and what not to keep. There may be important film in those cans or there may not be. How do we decide whether to gather the resources to find out?
Karin Dalziel on November 10, 2006 3:46 PM:
I recently had the privilege of attending a meeting with Jim Elmborg, head of the Writing University Archive over at the University of Iowa. He is in the process of digitizing thousands of recordings and videos of writers talking about their work. The time that has to be spent on a project like this is, as you can imagine, immense, as every single file has to be analyzed for content so it can be key worded and described so people can find it.
It's an expensive prospect, but worthwhile. I hope that as time goes on, more and more of these hidden collections make their way into the light.
One of the big problems, as you've hinted before, is that there is currently no open source way (that I know of) to display these things so viewers can watch them easily in their browser. It seems like most of the solutions are slow and clunky, and the smoothest ones are all proprietary. Lately I have been leaning towards ease of use over complete open source solutions, because, after all, you want people to use your materials. Perhaps, for now, a compromise can be reached by providing both solutions. Copyright is also a sticky issue, and it's sad that some things have to sit around collecting dust until they are out of copyright before anyone can safely bring them out for the world to see, lest they get sued.
bowerbird on November 10, 2006 10:14 PM:
> There may be important film in those cans
> or there may not be. How do we decide
> whether to gather the resources to find out?
how do we decide not to?
bob stein on November 11, 2006 8:31 AM:
it may be obvious to you or to me that we should open these cans, but last time i looked neither of us had any money in the bank with which to fund the effort. my question really is how do we come to a concensus within the broader society that preservation -- whether it be old film or existing species -- is worth it.
bowerbird on November 11, 2006 4:20 PM:
um, i gave up on "the broader society"
when mcgovern was defeated by nixon.
in a landslide.
so i'm afraid i can't help you here,
other than to say that the only thing
that seems to make the rich boys take
money out of their pockets is a belief
that doing so will put even more money
_back_ in those pockets.
bob stein on November 13, 2006 10:08 AM:
rick prelinger sent me a very interesting note in response to this post:
In 2004, I imagine after the sequence in Jonas's basement was shot, I brought in about 15 people and we packed up all the film in the basement, excepting only some films that Anthology had identified as within their collecting policy. Most everything was unclaimed lab materials. We are constructing a database of the entire collection which should be done by the end of this year. So I think we've helped Anthology not become a graveyard. There are many other graveyards, though.
bowerbird on November 13, 2006 3:33 PM:
sol gaitan on April 16, 2007 11:31 AM:
This came to me from the Maya Stendhal Gallery
New York/April 12, 2007 - The City Council of Vilnius, Lithuania established the Jonas Mekas Visual Arts Center on February 19th. The new center will exhibit collections by Jonas Mekas, the internationally renowned avant-garde filmmaker, and George Maciunas (1931-1978), the impresario/creator of Fluxus, a key art movement of the second part of the 20th century.
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"New York City has always been home to the avant-garde and two of its most influential figures have been Lithuanian. The international resonance of the Fluxus world that they created will provide the impetus for Vilnius to become the world's new center for the avant-garde," said Mayor Arturas Zuokas.
Mayor Zuokas noted that Vilnius has been declared a European Capital of Culture for 2009 and the founding of the Jonas Mekas Visual Arts Center is the first step in preparation for the City's monumental role.
Jonas Mekas, renowned filmmaker and inventor of the Diarist Cinema, continues to preserve a collective memoir where life and art are inseparable. Mekas came to New York City in 1949 and quickly became a prominent figure among the city's art scene. He founded Anthology Film Archives, the Film-Makers' Cooperative, Film Culture magazine, and wrote film reviews for the Village Voice from 1958 to 1978. Mekas' expansions upon the qualities of intimacy, spontaneity, and supreme selectivity are crafted through his distinctive discourses of time as the ordinary. Films focus on friends and collaborators such as Hans Richter and Andy Warhol to reveal deeply intimate portraits. Mekas masterfully extracts from thousands of hours of film footage, giving rise to interpretations of life experienced and life remembered.
Artist George Maciunas was the founder of the 1960's international Fluxus movement. Fluxus deviated between the boundaries of art and non-art through visions of artistic collaboration in music, performance, visual arts, and literature. Its origins can be traced to Marcel Duchamp's use of art beyond painting and John Cage's experimental music. Artists aimed to weave their endeavors into the threads of society, thus blurring any distinction between art and non-art, and art and life. Fluxus' rebellious ideology and multicultural constitution has made it one of the most influential philosophies in modern art. Louise Bourgeois, Vytautas Landsbergis, Shigeko Kubota, Ken Friedman, Jon Hendricks, Larry Miller, and Peter Moore were all part of the Fluxus family.
The Jonas Mekas Visual Arts Center will also act as a premier research and education institution where scholars and students directly experience the most innovative works in avant-garde film history and Fluxus art. Among its areas of interest is the creation of an extensive film archive that holds all material pertinent to avant-garde cinema and a comprehensive Film Library. An ambitious acquisition program is underway to generate a collection that represents Fluxus' significant place in art history. The center also anticipates the building of a Fluxus Research Institute with resources and programs directed towards fostering progressive discourses on Fluxus art. Through its activities, the center looks to a future in which Lithuania is internationally recognized for its support of the visual arts. The Jonas Mekas Visual Arts Center has engaged support from curators of art institutions and museums around the world, including Larry Kardish of the Museum of Modern Art in New York, Jerome Sans of the Baltic Centre for Contemporary Art in London, Harry Stendhal of the Maya Stendhal Gallery in New York, and Dominique Paini of the Centre Georges Pompidou in Paris.
Contact Information: Kristijonas Kucinskas - Director of the Jonas Mekas Visual Arts Center, Konstitucijos pr. 3, 09601 Vilnius, Lithuania Tel. +370 612 18 251
Fax. +370 5 211 23 96 E-mail: [ mailto:firstname.lastname@example.org ]email@example.com